History and Organisation of the Dutch 8th Militia Battalion: Quatre Bras and the March to Waterloo (16 - 17 June 1815)
By Marco Bijl
Editor's Note: This article is first appeared on the Dutch 8th Militia website and is used with the author's permission.
Author's Note: This article is based on research in primary sources only. All information is coming directly from archives, libraries and museums in the Netherlands and Belgium. Numbers between ( ) brackets are referring to numbers in the bibliography. The author has a copy of all documents mentioned in the text.
16 June: The Battle of Quatre Bras
The account below is only for the 8th Militia, the rest of Van Van
Bijlandt's Brigade was occupied elsewhere. The 8th was fighting mainly
with the 2nd Brigade.
Map 2 Shows the positions at 1400 hours. The 8th, together with 3 other battalions took up positions on a small farm road, hidden from the French by a small hill around 1 kilometer more to the south. Some Dutch guns were in support.
Map 3 shows a first attack by French lancers (Piré's Cavalry Division) at 1415 hours. The Allied battalions were moving back towards the woods. Also because they came under fire of French artillery, positioned on the hill mentioned earlier. It was during this bombardment that the first casualties were taken. The Flag platoon of the 8th received a direct hit, and Sergeant-Major Finson (holding the Flag) and Corporals Lansing and Martijn were seriously wounded (The sergeant-major received a 4th Class MWO Medal afterwards). Soon afterwards others were killed and wounded, in the 8th Militia as well as in the other battalions. A few minutes later Brigade orders were received to detach 2 companies (the 5th and 6th) to hold the woods that were jutting out to the easteast, while the remaining companies could go slightly backwards.
Map 4 Shows the situation half an hour later at 1445. The battalions are pushed back by cavalry and skirmishers into the woods. The situation is also becoming dangerous as French troops are now appearing to the east side of the woods. The one Nassau battalion send there to hold the French is retreating. Nevertheless, the other battalions are now holding their line in a small valley inside the woods. There they are regrouping under the command of Colonel Saxen-Weimar, the brigade commander of the 2nd Brigade. The 8th Militia is now split up. The 5th and 6th Companies are forming part of the line of Saxe-Weimar inside the woods, the remaining 4 companies are almost on the east side of the woods.
Map 5 Shows the counter-attack by Saxe-Weimars at 1500 hours, including the two detached companies of the 8th Militia. The French were now coming on in a thick skirmish line (the troops from Jêrome Bonaparte's Division) through the woods and therefore Saxe-Weimar decided to attack. This attack did not really failed or succeed, but it showed the French that there was still resistance in the woods. Meanwhile on the east side of the woods Luitenant-Kolonel De Jongh was holding back the approaching French from that side with his remaining 4 companies. But the French were bringing in artillery and soon afterwards the first casualties where taken, including De Jongh himself who was hit by a piece of a howitzer in his leg. He let himself be tied to the saddle and stayed in command. Now there was a lull in the fighting, where both sides where not doing much.
Map 6 Shows the troops at 1615. A renewed French attack drives them further back through the woods. As the French cavalry is now everywhere on both sides of the wood most troops take refuge inside the woods and, while fighting, moving northwards to avoid encirclement.
Map 7 Shows the counterattack at 1700 hours by the last two reserve battalions. These battalions where not engaged earlier and were thrown in as a last measure. The 8th Militia is now back at Quatre-Bras, together with most of the other battalions. They are probably exhausted, hungry, and without ammunition after 5 hours of fighting. Besides this the formation of the units was in chaos after the fighting in the woods.
Map 8 shows the situation at 1800 hours when the 3rd British/Hanover division has arrived in the woods. They are launching a strong counterattack along the whole line from east to west on the battlefield. That counter-attack results the French being thrown back to their original morning positions. The 8th is still re-grouping at that time.
The 8th Militia B Casualties at Quatre Bras:
Total 8th Militia Casualties at Quatre Bras: 41 (killed, wounded, missing and captured) (Some will return to the unit later).
16th of June: The battle of Quatre Bras; pictures of battlefield today
Picture 1 is taken to the southwest, along the rough farm track where the 8th Militia was marching to their first positions.
Picture 2 shows the possible field were the 8th Militia encamped (without tents) on the night before the battle.
Picture 3 is a panorama picture displaying the fields in the south and east, in the direction where the forest once was.
Picture 4 is taken in northeast direction along the farm road. This was the first position of the 27th Jagers.
Picture 5 shows the location of the 5 & 6th Companies of the 8th, defending that small part of the forest.
Picture 6 is an important one. This was the exact location where the battalion stood (see Map 2) when they came under attack for the first time. You can see the view they had on the low hill in front of them where the French were positioning artillery.
Picture 7 is taken in a southern direction and is showing the view the 8th had at 1415 hours (see Map 3) when they were threatened by cavalry and hit by artillery rounds.
Picture 8 is also taken in a southern direction, in the middle of the woods, which is now the golf course. The 8th was slowly retreating through these positions between 1415 and 1445 hours.
Picture 9 is the location where Saxe-Weimar gathered his units, plus the 5 & 6th Companies of the 8th Militia, for the counter-attack at 1500 hours. They attacked uphill!
Picture 10 is a Panorama picture looking north and northeast. In the middle of the picture, in the far distance Gemiencourt farm.
© Copyright 1995-2008, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.